”He needs to learn to hold his pencil now, so he can write properly in Kindergarten.”
“She should get used to sleeping alone now, so you don’t have a 7-year-old in your bed.”
“If he doesn’t learn to follow instructions now, how will he manage in high school?”
“She should be talking by now.”
As parents, most of us are driven by an investment in our children’s health and happiness (we can question the accuracy of these goals at another time). The question I’d like to ask today is: health and happiness, when? Now, or later?
It seems to me that so often we tend to sacrifice our children’s health and happiness in the present moment at the altar of their future health and happiness.
In other words: “Jump through these (unpleasant or even painful) hoops now, so that at some later date you may enjoy eternal nirvana (read: good college and decent job).” I call this parental “time travel” ― where, rather than being present with our children, loving them for who they are in this moment, we’re constantly traveling to some time in the future when they have become the person we wish them to be. When they have finally filled their so-called “potential” and when they’re “cooked.”
The problem here is twofold:
1. When we time travel, our children miss out on their childhoods.
Childhood should be about play, exploration, unconditional love, forming an unshakable foundation of emotional health, physical well-being, and deep relationships.
Instead, childhood is increasingly becoming about achievement. About resume. About future. “Does she crawl yet?”, “Can she read yet?”, “Are his grades better yet?” (Hint: whenever there’s a “yet” attached to a question, perhaps there’s an indication of the “time traveling”?). They’re essentially giving their childhoods up for a series of arbitrary rungs that they had better climb, fast.
What’s more, their very sense of worth is hooked on some future date, some vague time yet to come when all of the investment we’re putting into them will pay off. It’s as though the message is ― you’re not worthy yet, but someday you will be.
What do I mean by “worthy”? I mean valuable and whole, deserving of unconditional love and acceptance, just as we are, right now. Isn’t that what each of us wishes for, anyway?
Childhood isn’t only the path to adulthood. It is that also, but I wonder if we can pause to reconsider our thinking of a five-year-old as “almost a person.” Just as it’s unbefitting to consider an 80-year-old merely a “cute, old” version of their younger selves. Perhaps a 5-year-old isn’t merely a 25-year-old in the making, but also a person ― whole and complete, right now.
You guys, none of us is 18-25 years old forever. We had better start embracing ages ― all of them ― as worthy. Worthy of acceptance in there as-is state. Worthy of their humanity in and of themselves. Right now.
How miserable for us to go through life looking back over our shoulder at an age that has passed. And how sad for our children to be constantly primed to the potential for an age yet to come.
2. When we time travel we miss out on our children’s childhoods.
Constantly anxious over what’s next, we can’t possibly stop to enjoy and revel in what is now. As the world of mindfulness teaches us ― we only ever truly have the present moment.
Do you know, these are the first of the top 5 deathbed regrets:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I didn’t work so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
When we are focused on the future, we are missing out on our opportunity to actually take part in our children’s lives, right now. We are living according to the expectations of others ― society, grandparents, teachers and not true to our children and ourselves, right now. We are working hard. We aren’t expressing our truest feelings ― of unconditional love and connection ― but we are driven by angst and worry.
So, I propose we all take a deep breath and look at our child ― exactly as they are, warts and all, right now. Not at their “unfilled potential,” not at the many steps still ahead of them and definitely not at their future earnings and achievements. But just as they are.
And perhaps we can also extend this kindness to ourselves, too, and embrace our age and stage in life ― as it is, in this moment.
I would love to hear from you: are you guilty of “time traveling” in this way? What brings you back to the moment? For me, it’s an acute sense of mortality ― I know that this could be the last day with my children, I want to live it to the full.